It is midnight. Most people are tucked in bed sleeping soundly. Your funeral director is up working dressed in a smock and gloves, preparing the dead. Their phone is always nearby just in case of the inevitable phone call notifying them of another death. Your funeral director is always ready, always prepared, day or night.
During the last few months I have posted very little. I started a business and have been working on some other ventures. Today I wanted to share with you other funeral directors who have been using social media to convey their messages. I have compiled a list of links and descriptions and created another tab on my website called “Others in the industry”. It is important to celebrate the brave souls who are willing to speak out and teach others about the mystery surrounding the inevitable, our death. I have a great respect for those who talk about death in a respectful way. There are no gimmicky, romanticizing, dark lords here, just real people who handle real death and understand your fear of it. https://chelseatolman.com/those-in-our-industry/
To arrange an interview, or request a signed copy of my book “Speaking of the Dead”, please contact me directly at 801-702-9202, email to: firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow me on social media at twitter.com/chelsea_tolman, instagram.com/thembalmergirl, or facebook.com/mbalmergirl
Before you read this story I felt this a good opportunity to address that there are many industry professionals whom I admire and also tell their stories on social media platforms. It is important in our current society to address the many questions raised when it comes to death and how we care for the dead. I am working on adding a new page to my website dedicated to sharing links of these funeral directors. So in the next couple of weeks if you have any suggestions of who should be added to this page please message me on instagram @thembalmergirl or email me at email@example.com and of course you may always send me a message from the contact page.
Her hands were clutched in front of her.
She made small, nervous motions as she walked. She was slightly bent from age
like something heavy weighed upon her shoulders and her feet shuffled along the
carpet. Her head was down, her eyes focused on the floor and she never looked
up as she walked, seeming to be nervous of what was to come and why she was
here. She was surrounded by her children who, whether on purpose or not, ringed
her protectively as they all entered the funeral home. As I walked towards them,
I adjusted my suit and checked that the buttons on my jacket were fastened,
always wanting to look professional and capable. I observed the group for signs
of defensiveness, fear, sadness, or any of the other “feels” that are typical
of people who have just experienced a death. She came across that she was in
need of comfort and support, her family around her were shielding and wary.
I greeted her first, extending my
sympathies that the death of her husband was the reason we were meeting. I
stretched out my hand with the intent of holding hers for just a moment and to
hopefully create some sense of ease that is needed in these moments. She
quickly recoiled both hands to her chest and sank further into her crowd of
defender. Still never looking up but in a mighty voice contradicting her small
frame she demanded, “Who are you?!” I took a small respectful step back and
answered, “I am your funeral director.” In response she looked up into my eyes
and with a glare belying her previously diminutive stature said, “Well, I …
don’t … like … you!” Proving that sometimes I am wrong in my assessment of
In hindsight, moments such as these can
be comical. But the distress experienced while the situation is occurring are
real and painful. Some people fear the mortuary and the funeral director. Some
believe that we are out to get their money and steal their loved one’s body
parts to make the painful experience they are living more painful. Some choose to be cocooned in a world where
death doesn’t exist for them because in our society, we are so far removed from
death that it is a mystery to most. I admit, this is the easier way – until
someone dies. Then, it becomes a trauma that no one should have to experience.
It is hard to watch someone internally wrestling with what they perceived
wasn’t even possible to the reality that it has happened and now they are
living a nightmare.
In an attempt to take the hostility out
of her comment and show her that I did not take her remark personally, I
answered with a friendly smile and said “Of course, I understand.” I made my
introductions to the rest of the family who were silently mouthing to me “I’m
sorry.” I waved them off, assuring them that it was fine and then spoke to them
all as a whole as to what they should expect during the time they would be spending
with me. I then asked them all to follow me and turned around to lead them to
the room where we would be spending the next hour or so together. As I walked
away, I heard the widow say “I don’t trust her, let’s get someone else.”
Comments like these usually come from
being in pain and in shock and not knowing what to do with these emotions, it
can’t be taken personally. I knew at this moment that it wouldn’t matter who
her funeral director was, she would feel the same about any of us. So, understanding
this, I continued walking away, acting as if I didn’t hear her.
During the arrangements, most of the
questions I asked the widow were ignored by her and had to be repeated by a
family member. I would ask a question, a family member would echo my question
to her, and only then would the widow give an answer. She was determined to
show me who was boss, and I was obliged to let her think she was in control.
This went on during the entire arrangement. During this time the family would
give each other side glances, roll their eyes and sometimes even giggle at the
absurdity of how their mother was behaving. At one point the daughter asked her
mother “Why don’t you just answer the lady?” and again she said, “I don’t like
her.” And so, we continued the ask twice, answer once regime. Which made me
also giggle internally at the widow’s resolve to be difficult.
When it was time for them to leave I walked them to the door and said goodbye, addressing the widow by name. I heard her grunt and mumble something I couldn’t make out as she ignored me and walked out the front door. Her daughter stayed behind to apologize for her mother’s behavior which I could only respond with that she was in grief and scared and sad and her behavior was nothing for them to worry about. The daughter was truly embarrassed. I assured her that I was not offended and with a smile I told her that her mother has great personality. She gave me a big smile, thanked me again and left to join her family in the parking lot.
As a funeral director, I am subject to
see all kinds of emotions. Sad, angry, numb, these are all things I expect from
families during the time I interact with them. I didn’t feel threatened by the
widow’s behavior, I felt sad for her pain. And to be honest it does make me
giggle a little when sweet little old ladies are rude, as it belies the
behavior we expect from our elders.
The next time I saw the widow was when
the family came in for a private family viewing. I had her husband dressed and
in his casket. I made sure his shirt was pressed and tie was straight. As the
family walked into the lobby, I addressed the widow again, making sure that
this time I stayed at a distance and didn’t reach for her hand. She looked at
me but said nothing. I greeted the rest of the family with hugs and walked them
to the door where I had their father’s body ready and waiting for their
arrival. I talked them through what they would see once I opened the door,
where the casket was located, what flowers had arrived and that they should
take as much time as they needed, and that the room was theirs for however long
I opened the door and allowed the family
to walk in first. I stepped in behind them watching how the widow reacted to
seeing her husband for the first time since his death. She walked up to the
casket and placed a hand on his chest, her head was bowed forward and she was
quickly surrounded by her children with their arms around her shoulders. I
walked out of the room and quietly closed the door behind me.
The widow never fully warmed up to me,
but she at least stopped being rude. She allowed me to direct her husband’s
funeral and burial. Her children were no longer apologetic but grateful that I
handled the situation so well and accomplished creating a memorable funeral for
My hope for the widow is that she found a
way to calm her inner turmoil and grasp the joy that her children and
grandchildren will bring her as she learns to survive without her husband. I
will continue to love the families I serve no matter how they act towards me.
This is a story that I recall every Memorial Day. It is heartbreaking but forces us to remember the veterans who struggled with injuries both physical and emotional and ended up in unfortunate circumstances. Some of our veterans have died alone and dejected. Today, let’s remember all of them.
I went on a first call. It was a small home, it was fairly shabby, the stain peeling off the wood on the front porch and siding, the yard was trying to be grass but just couldn’t get its way around the empty pots, lawn furniture and grimy toys left about. I walked in and was greeted by the sister of the deceased and a niece and nephew. I sat with the family around the kitchen table to go over some details. The lighting was poor and the 1960’s countertops were dull and scratched and covered in used dishes. This was not an unfamiliar scene, it isn’t even a negative, it was just the setting I was in. I asked if they had thought about services and what they would want to do as a tribute for the man who had died. Every person in the room was in tears and solemn and quiet. The sister told me that they wanted the best for her brother. A big funeral with a casket and viewing and burial. She told me he was a war hero, he served his country and had been wounded, he had lost both legs and had been bed ridden for several years. He should be honored and cared for as a king. So, I pulled out a packet that detailed our service packages and pointed out the one that best served what they were describing to me. A viewing, a service and a burial. We talked about the local cemeteries and which one they would like to use. Almost immediately I was met with hesitation at the cost. After some discussion, I explained the other options we had available, services can be beautiful in many different ways and budgets. It is never easy to talk about money, especially when a death has occurred and the family is raw and in shock and broken. We decided they should think on the matter and that we would meet at the funeral home the next day after some sleep and could then decide on the details. I asked to see where his body was so I could bring my partner in and transfer him to our cot to take him to the mortuary. We walked down a narrow hallway to the end of the house. Halfway down the hallway the smell hit me, it was awful. As I walked into the room which was the size of a closet and saw this poor man laid out on his bed with no sheets and a myriad of stains that I could not have guessed what they were. He was skin and bones. He had no legs and I could already see and smell that he had bed sores (when a person lies in bed so long in one position the tissues cannot get blood flow and so it starts to decay). He was wearing a t-shirt and a diaper, neither had been changed in a very long time. His hair was long and scraggly and his facial hair had not been trimmed in months. (As disturbing as this may be, this scene wasn’t uncommon. Most people in that area could not afford could care and so it was up to the families to handle a job that is much more difficult than you would imagine.) I explained to the family how we would be taking him from the room to the hearse waiting outside and took my leave to get the cot and my partner. Once we got this man in the hearse and was set to drive off, I was approached by the sister pleading to take good care of him, he was a hero and deserved to be honored. I assured her that I would and left her sobbing in the front yard. My heart broke for so many reasons, his deplorable conditions, her absolute grief.
The next day, the family came in to discuss funeral details. We sat for about an hour going over different options to give him a fitting tribute within their budget. I could not take payments and there wasn’t any insurance, even the government couldn’t pitch in enough money to supplement what little they had for the funeral he deserved. The most economical choice of cremation was even more than what they had to spend. I gave them some resources and told them that we would somehow figure this out. They thanked me and said they would call later that afternoon. They never called that afternoon or the next day. The day after that I made a call to them and discovered that the phone number I had was disconnected. So, I did some searching in the phone book for the names of the family members I knew and came up with nothing. I then decided to wait another day to see if they would show up or call. After about a week of failed attempts to contact them, I drove to the house only to find it empty and silent. So, my next step was to call the medical examiner. In these cases, the medical examiner in the jurisdiction would take possession of the body and make further attempts to find some family who will claim them. The weeks soon turned to months. I periodically checked with the medical examiner as to what happened to this man and as of the last time I checked he had been in their morgue for four years.
I cannot adequately describe the disappointment I felt in this family. As a funeral director, I am here to generate some type of closure, present some way of creating a tribute to the deceased. This man’s abandonment goes completely against my code. If only this family would have come back, we could have figured it out. I get that funerals are expensive and most people cannot afford what it costs but we have to come to some decision, some way of taking care of the body and give the family a ceremony. I have imagined what the sister of this man might be going through, never get closure at abandoning her brother. Maybe I am wrong and she found a way to move forward but her pleas ring in my ears even today, please take care of him, he was a hero.
It was a drizzly day, big fluffy clouds with varying shades of gray swirled overhead. The humidity hung in the air whispering of the storm that was threatening to overtake the city. It was mid-afternoon when I received a phone call to pick up a deceased man from the Medical Examiner’s (ME) office, so I jumped in the funeral home van and hit the road. Once I arrived at the ME’s office I backed the van into a small alleyway that ended with a railing and ramp that led to a large metal door. I rang a bell next to the metal door and a staff member escorted me with my cot inside to retrieve the deceased man. The staff member and I chatted and bantered back and forth, talking about what cases he had seen lately, I talked about the families I was currently serving. He then retrieved the man from a back room, and I proceeded to check the name on the tag attached to the man’s foot, verifying it was the right person. We transferred the man onto my cot and I left the building just like I had countless times before.
After getting my passenger safely into the back of the van, I climb into the driver’s seat and hit the road again. It only took a few minutes and I was on the freeway headed back to the mortuary. The clouds were ominous. Darker than before. Then, as I was driving it started to hail and the wind became angrier, so much so that I had to keep a tight grip on the steering wheel to prevent the van from careening into another lane. There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the freeway, but every car was slowing down due to the severe weather conditions. The hail stones became bigger and bounced off the windshield with so much force that I feared it would crack the glass. The wind had become so strong at this point that almost all of the traffic was moving at a crawl as the drivers struggled to keep control of their cars. This scenario is incredibly difficult to explain if you haven’t ever experienced it. I was surrounded by a black and brown haze as the wind picked up dust and debris from the streets and hurled it around like an angry child throwing an epic temper tantrum. The hail stones crashed and smashed with incredible energy.
At this point I was thinking that I had to get off the freeway and under some cover. As I neared the next overpass it became apparent that I was not getting off the freeway any time soon. The cars that were ahead of me had stopped under the overpass for protection and blocked any other cars from getting passed. I was stuck! Cars stopped in front of me and cars now stopped behind me, my only option was to put the van in park and climb in the back of the van away from the windows and wait it out. It was just me and the man I was charged with keeping safe hunkered down with nowhere else to go.
The baseball sized hailstones hit the van, threatening to break the windows and punch through the seemingly thin metal that protected me and my passenger. The sound was deafening, the booms echoed in the cramped metal space. The wind bullied the van, pushing it from side to side seeming to try and knock us over. I talked to the dead man lying on the cot next to me. I told him I would do whatever it took to get him back to the mortuary safe so that his family didn’t have to experience any more trauma than they already had. In my head I thought about what I would have to say to them if by chance we were thrown over and the body was injured. I was mentally preparing myself for the possible hours of reconstruction I would be faced with if this whole thing went badly. I would do what I had to do to assure the family could say goodbye to a complete and whole person. As these thoughts and scenarios swam around in my head, the wind slowly lost its rage and calmed. The hail storm abated, and the clouds parted. How long had it been? a minute, an hour? I am not sure. The storm had passed, well not so much a storm but a tornado that had run amok around the city and seriously close to the freeway I had been trapped on.
Through this entire ordeal, there was not one crack in the windshield, not one dent in the metal of the van and the man that I had picked up from the ME’s office was safe and unscathed. I was able to present him to his family unharmed.
This was the 2008 tornado that ripped through Atlanta and tore open Georgia dome! 30 people were injured and one person was killed. The video below is my father telling the story during one of my book readings.
these doors is the most sacred room in the building. It is where loved ones
come to be prepared for the most difficult event in a family’s life. Those that
work behind these doors pledge to each family a never-ending commitment of
respect and service to those that place their trust in us.”
In mortuary college, every student is pledged to care for the
deceased with respect and treat the families with integrity. I remember
standing with my graduating class, adorned in my robes and tasseled hat,
repeating each word of the oath written below. After all my classmates and I
had gone through in class, the testing, the long days and nights, the testing, so
many subjects we needed to learn to get to this day and did I mention the
testing! We said each word together with family and friends in the crowd,
watching and listening to what we promised to do. I couldn’t have been prouder
of our profession, that we were required to take such an oath to do our job.
There is a reason that families trust us, we have an incredibly important role
in handling people and the deceased. Real things. Important things. One little
white lie will always turn into a chain of other lies which destroys trust and
reputation. One unwashed instrument carrying a disease can be carelessly
We are the ones who will do the jobs not many others can or will do. We are the ones who care about you before we have ever met you. We are the last responders, and more recently I have heard us described as ninjas. We are your funeral directors.
“I do solemnly swear by that which I hold most sacred;
I shall be loyal to the Funeral Service Profession and just and generous
to its members; That I shall not let the constant relationship and
familiarity with death give me cause to yield to carelessness or to
violate my obligation to society or to the dignity of my profession.
I shall obey the Civil Laws. That I shall not divulge professional
confidences; And that I shall be faithful to those who have placed
their trust in me.
I continue to keep this oath unviolated, may it be granted to me to enjoy
honor in my life and in my profession; and may I be respected by all
people for all time.”
You’ve lost someone to death. A person that you knew, loved
and talked to is no longer there. The grief is crippling, food turns to ash in
your mouth, you are unable to move, function, smile. Will you ever laugh again?
I have been there for hundreds of families and talked them
through the emotions they are feeling just trying to find a way to convey to
them that it is normal to be angry, sad, numb, even happy. I myself have
experienced that total grief that comes with a devastating loss.
Grief is real for everybody, it is normal, it is tangible. You
can feel it, taste it and hate it. So how do you embrace it? A question I get quite
frequently from families is, “When will this pain end?” The only true answer to
that question is that it won’t. But, you will learn to survive with it. The
more you embrace the ache and hurt the more you learn to live despite it.
It is currently Springtime and I awoke this morning realizing that this time of year is the perfect analogy to living with grief. Where I live, during the winter months, we get lots of snow. This creates many challenges. It can be a challenge to get up in the morning and have to scrape the ice off your car in the freezing cold. It can be a challenge to then drive on slush laden roads where the simple turn of a wheel or fast brake, whether by you or someone else, can send your car into a seemingly uncontrollable skid. Grief is like that. There are times when just getting out of bed is a task too difficult to achieve and driving on slushy roads is similar to the unpredictability of interacting with the world, you almost never know what might trigger an attack of horrible grief rendering you almost incapable of functioning. In those moments, remember that spring is coming. Even when you feel so heavy that simply putting one foot in front of the other does not seem possible, you will again feel the sunshine after a long winter. It’s like when the snow has melted and flowers with their bursts of color are just starting to peek through the dead grass and weeds. You will start to have days where you feel whole and complete and find joy in being. Of course, reality will come back just like the snow and the rain during springtime but again the sun will shine and more and more color will start to burst forth and your heart will lighten.
Just like in nature there is a natural ebb and flow to grief.
The clouds will part briefly allowing for a few deep breaths and then the gloom
settles in again. When this happens remember that the sun will find its way
through the clouds and give you moments of respite. The long winters and springtime
seasons will always present themselves, you cannot escape it. However, even in
the darkest hours, in the worst moments of trying to get through a day, an hour
or a minute, your best defense of cloudy, snowy days is try to remember the Spring.
The season was changing, it was fall. Orange
and yellow leaves scattered the ground. Some leaves still clung to the trees in
pure defiance of being replaced by newer, greener leaves in the spring. The air
was crisp, the grass was turning brown and crunchy. It was the perfect season
for a graveside service. The woman who passed away had pre-arranged all of her
services prior to her death. She was to be embalmed and have a night of viewing
at the mortuary then the next day be transported to a cemetery in a neighboring
town for a graveside and burial.
During the arrangement meeting with the
children we finalized all of the details, set the time for viewing and when we
would meet at the cemetery. The children left and I busied myself with ordering
the casket and vault and notified the cemetery of our plans so they could dig
the grave. I then called the clergy to coordinate when to meet at the cemetery,
he let me know that he was not able to make the trip but would be at the
viewing to say a few words to the family. This is not unusual with services
that are out of town, the clergy sometimes have other obligations and are not
able to travel for a service. Often in these cases the funeral director will
step in and say a few words in lieu of the clergy. I notified the children and
offered to step in which they readily agreed and were grateful for the offer.
At no time during any of our interactions did the children indicate what was to
happen the day of the graveside.
The viewing went as planned. Family and
friends came and visited. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Once the viewing
ended I allowed the children some private time with their mother before I
closed the casket for the last time. They said their goodbyes and left the
The next day, I arrived at the funeral
home early. I placed the casket in the hearse along with a register book,
tissues and lap quilts. Then I got on the road for the long trip. It was about
a three-hour drive through winding country roads lined with trees, the bright fall
colors were a welcome backdrop. I arrived at the cemetery early in order to get
everything ready and then waited for the children to arrive. During these times
I enjoy scoping out surrounding headstones looking for unique sayings or try
and find the oldest headstone in the area. As I wandered around I noticed it
was getting close to the time for the graveside and had not yet seen or heard
from the children. Still I waited, I knew it was a long drive and they would
have had to get up pretty early to make it there in time and they had been up
late the night before for the viewing, so I waited.
It was ten minutes past time for the
graveside and still no sign of the children. I called the son to ask about their
ETA. He didn’t answer so I left a message. I then called the daughter, she didn’t
answer so I also left her a message. Then sat in a chair under the tent and continued
to wait. At twenty minutes past time for the graveside I was still the only
person there, aside from the cemetery crew waiting nearby. Finally, the son
called me back. He told me that no one in the family would be there, no one had
enough money for gas for that long of a trip and they all had to work today. I
was shocked! Not once did any of the children give me an indication that they
would not be there. After a moment of silence, I was thinking of how to respond
to that, I finally asked the son how he would like me to proceed. He told me to
just say a few words and then have his mother buried. They would make a trip to
the cemetery at a later date. We both hung up.
I stood there in the cemetery looking towards
the cemetery crew awaiting my signal. I looked at the tent and the chairs
perfectly aligned with folded blankets set on each one for the family to sit in
comfort. It was quiet there, aside from a few rustling leaves as light wisps of
wind carried them around the headstones. I turned my head and looked back at
the hearse with the waiting casket and its passenger awaiting pall bearers to carry
it to the grave opening.
It was the perfect kind of day and the
perfect set up for a graveside service. I swallowed hard in disappointment and walked
to the waiting cemetery crew. I explained the situation, stressing that there
would be no one to help carry the casket to the grave. The crew jumped into
action and called in additional coworkers, then they stepped out of their truck
and followed me over to the hearse. The additional men showed up and we all
carried the woman to her final resting place. Then, to my surprise all the crew
stood in a line near the casket in a ready and waiting position and one of them
gave me a little nod. I understood that they would be the fill in mourners for
the little service I had planned. I said my few words and read a poem I had
found, then took a picture of the crew standing there behind the casket. I was
so touched by the cemetery crews’ actions, they were so willing to step in and stand
as mourners, it was truly heartwarming. I thanked them all and let them finish
Once I got back to the funeral home, I
printed the pictures along with the speech and poem I had read and put it all
in the mail for the children. If they couldn’t be there in person, at least
they would know that their mother was memorialized properly.
In hindsight, maybe I could have been clearer
with the children about the expectation that they would meet me at the
cemetery, prompting the discussion about their lack of gas money. I would have
happily provided a hearse at no charge to assure they could attend the
graveside. While they were happy with the pictures and copy of the speech, I
still feel the situation could have been avoided had we communicated better. And,
although it worked out, I wonder how many times this has happened that the
cemetery crew were so prepared to step in and attend the service of woman they
The pillows have been fluffed, fresh water is ready in a drinking
glass nearby. There are rows of bottles neatly arranged on the bedside table
and someone you love is tucked under the sheets, sleeping soundly, finally. How
long will they be asleep this time? An hour? Eight? There is no telling when the
illness is terminal, and you are the caretaker. Has it been days? weeks? Years?
Doctors visits, therapy, medications, little sleep and sponge baths. It is an
honor to care for the people we love and help them when they cannot help
themselves, it is also a full-time job and exhausting. So, what happens when
this part of the job is over? Your person has died, and the hospital takes away
the bed that you have placed fresh sheets on a thousand times, cleaned up
messes with soap and bleach and lovingly snuggled with someone you love who was
sick and dying. The bottles of pills are no longer needed, some full, some half
empty. That drinking glass with the flower print sits on the night stand
silently reminding you that this person loved purple irises. So many things you
are now going to go through, the next set of tasks are listed somewhere in your
brain. Your journey through grief starts here.
Many experts have published the stages of grief that we are
supposed to go through. Like there is a pre-prescribed way to come to terms with
why your mother is no longer there for your planned Sunday brunch date, or why your
brother was found hanging in the closet when he seemed so happy, or why your
unborn child never made it through the birth canal alive. There is no formula
for getting through these events. There is no end to how people leave the world
as we know it. And there are thousands of ways that we as humans handle these
losses. It is time to put away our assumptions of how people grieve and let go of
the way a funeral is done just because that is how it has been done. People don’t
live and die in the same manner, lets celebrate who they were on our own terms,
with our own kind of celebration.
Watch out 2019, Chelsea Tolman is on the loose! I am gearing up for some exciting new content and a new look. That being said mbalmergirl will be dark for a few weeks in preparation of these new things to come. In the meantime all previous blog posts will still be available for your reading pleasure. You can also find me on instagram @thembalmergirl, facebook @mbalmergirl and twitter @chelsea_tolman, browse my website for previous interviews on podcasts, blogs, radio and TV and contact me with any questions or suggestions of things you would like to see, hear or read about at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the contact page on my website.
Thanks to everyone for following and reading my blog and to those who have/are/will read and review “Speaking of the dead”
Gillian Rodriguez is a licensed funeral director and embalmer in the state of
Texas. She has been fully licensed since 2013 and has been in the funeral
industry since 2011. She is now the aftercare director for Parting Pro, a
rapidly growing software company for funeral professionals.
How did you get into the
Funny story. I set off after high school and
earned my bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2007- about the same time the
recession was really gearing up. Realizing one million (plus or minus) students
were graduating with my same degree every year, I decided I need to
differentiate myself. I’d previously completed internships in forensics, where
I loved the science but missed the connection with people. I’d also completed
an internship in grief counseling, where I loved working with people but missed
the hard sciences. I took time off to soul-search and really determine what I
wanted to do, and then it hit me. Funeral Directing. The challenge of it
appealed to me in a way I still can’t explain- I wanted to step into the lives
of people who needed it the most, and be their helper. Fearing my parents’
total disapproval (they were envisioning law school or another post-grad
program, I think), I sheepishly mentioned my interest. My mom grinned ear
to ear, and said it made perfect since, given my heritage. How could I have
escaped this connection? Of course, she was right. I would be the fourth-generation
funeral director/embalmer in my family, and the first woman in the succession.
So, was it family? Was it passion? Without hesitation, both.
This industry is hard. Why
do you do your job every day?
I have an inexplicable desire to approach the
hardest, worst situations in the world and act. The challenge of not only
directing, but really helping the families who needed it most, traversing this
universe of shock, grief, terror, anger, sadness, relief, happiness and joy in
their memories…and everything in-between? Yes, please. The families that are
the “hard” families, with the most complicated situations and loss?
Those are my people. The ability to reach the un-reachable is something that
drives me every day, even now.
What is your favorite part
of the job?
My job has taken me into a new challenge of
our profession- communicating with colleagues across the country about death
care technology. As the Aftercare Director for Parting Pro-the most innovative
software in the funeral profession- my job is tasked with bridging the gap
between the nostalgia and familiarity of yester-year (typewriters? carbon paper
contracts?) and the technology of the future (digital ID verification, online
arrangement experiences and digital case management). It’s no longer
sufficient to have a website that tells families to call your business. Your
website must now offer an interactive, online experience. Families can buy a
diamond ring, a car, a house and more online- why is our profession lagging in
meeting families where they need us, in their new-found online communities? You
can still be the neighborhood funeral home, while recognizing that a virtual
“neighborhood” exists, too. So my favorite part? Intellectualizing
how to take our profession into the future, with compassion, values, and
service at the forefront.
How do you balance work and
home life? What do you do for self-care?
Wait, there’s a balance? Just kidding! First,
I want to acknowledge that I didn’t pop out of mortuary school knowing about
this balance, the need for it, or how to achieve it. That was a rather painful
learning experience that took years to master. I realized I was working myself
to death for a lifestyle I could never participate in, because I was working
myself to death. Which brings me to my self-care: Saying “no.”
Sounds simple, but it’s not. Learning how to say no was, and still is how I practice
self-care. Does this mean I don’t work hard? No. It means I’m selective in the
work that I do, and relish the peace found in the quiet moments that are mine
to own. I think, as women in this profession, we often believe that we have to
work harder, smarter, better, stronger, and “more” in order to prove
our place. But it wasn’t until I realized that mentality was total bullshit and
self-destructive, that I was able to pour myself into my total life
Outside of work, what are
I’m consumed by learning. My hobbies/interests
at the moment are graduate school, where I’m earning a Master’s degree in
clinical mental health counseling. Immersing myself in intellectual stimulation
may sound like torture to some, but for me, it’s my time. It’s my mental space
to re-claim and grow my own understanding of people, their lived-in
experiences, their meanings. My focus is on applications of emotional contagion
and indirect trauma, as well as combining artificial intelligence with bereavement
counseling services online to one day, broaden accessibility to these resources
If you choose, tell us
about your family, kids, spouses, pets etc.
My family, without a doubt, is the only reason
I can do this. Any of this. When I was considering graduate school, my husband
simply looked at me and said, “I want you to have your dream.” My
son, who’s three, well…while I think the hours away from each other are hard
on us both, the hours spent together are that much more savored and treasured.
He’s my absolute sunshine (and knows it). My dogs are my other children, and
there have been many, many times I’ve cried into their soft fur at night in
total grief for the family I served. My
village deserves every ounce of credit for my professional, personal and
Tell a story about a family
you have served.
While working at an internship, I remember
serving a family of a fallen serviceman who was killed overseas. I’d never been
exposed to this level of service, had no idea what “high profile”
meant or anything to do with the ceremony and honor of that type of service. I
was completely naive, not prepared, and shadowed the entire process in my own
shock and awe. The day of the arrangements, my brother told my family he would
be deployed, and all I could envision was this family at the funeral home.
About the time I broke down, and decided that I couldn’t be a funeral
professional, I realized that if something like that were to happen to my
brother, I would want someone to take care of me, in the way I desired to care
for that family. It was more than a desire. It was a compelling need. A
determination to perfect it. My brother was deployed to South Korea and we were
blessed with his safe return. Naturally, the military perfected 99% of the
service, but the small time I had with his widow inspired me to contact The
American Widow Project, and promote their materials throughout as many funeral
homes as time would allow.
What message would you like
to give to the public about our profession?
I am human. I am not Lurch Adams. I am not a
morbidly-consumed evil-wisher, waiting to prey upon a family when tragedy
strikes and my pockets are empty. Nay, I’m a rather normal person. If you see
me in the grocery store, I’ll probably have my son, shopping for the same food
you eat. If you call me at 3 a.m., I’ll probably sound foggy for the first
three seconds because…I actually sleep. When you feel pain, I feel pain. I’ve
just learned little tricks to sustain myself long enough to get to my car and
cry the entire way home. I know how to care for you when your over-sized
sunglasses aren’t quite big enough to conceal your dissolution into grief.
Simply, I’m a person too, and I want to help.
This is the last in the Who We Are Speaking of Series for December 2018. Please submit details and contact information for your favorite funeral director to be placed in the spotlight for future series to email@example.com. Thanks!
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